Before Virgil Abloh rose to prominence as Louis Vuitton’s head of menswear, he had (and still has) nine lives as a creator. An architect, DJ, sculptor, painter, and designer of furniture and fashion, his work ranges from prototypes for skyscrapers to tie-dyed leather tees and graffitied chairs.
This spring, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago will recognize Abloh’s multidisciplinary talents with “Figures of Speech,” a mid-career showcase of his defining pieces. About a quarter of the exhibit, which is Abloh’s first museum show, will be dedicated to his contributions to fashion. He has done about as much as anyone to bridge the gap between streetwear and couture, first as the creative director of Kanye West’s Yeezy brand, then with his own label Off-White, and now at Vuitton. (He is the first black man to hold the role.)
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The show will include selections from his first collection for Vuitton, 3-D printed onto mannequins; shoes from “The Ten,” in which Abloh reimagines ten of his favorite Nike sneakers; and one of the dresses from Off-White’s collection “You’re Obviously in the Wrong Place,” printed with images of Giorgio de Chirico paintings.
Museum-goers will be given a comprehensive tour of Abloh’s most memorable non-fashion collaborations, such as the cover he made for Kanye West’s Yeezus album, his ironic woven rugs for IKEA, and a nightclub installation he created with interior designer Ben Kelly.
Abloh, whose Ghanaian-immigrant parents raised him in Rockford, Illinois, not far from Chicago, hopes “Figures of Speech” will draw the city’s youth into the museum, where they can discover that there’s more to art than Van Gogh. He said as much in a conversation with architect Rem Koolhaas and Samir Bantal, the exhibit’s designer, published in the exhibit catalog: “I think that inherent in the show’s sensibility is the idea that the architect or artist or whatever from the future might not look like what we have come to expect.”
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In connection with the exhibit, Abloh is partnering with Instagram on a design challenge that will ask participants to rethink their everyday surroundings. He recently told the crowd at a press preview at Manhattan’s NeueHouse that he hopes it will lead to the discovery of what he calls “the next generation of Virgil Ablohs.” June 10–September 22; mcachicago.org.